Before my life partner Brian died, the holidays looked VERY different than they do now. Before Brian died, ample money was spent on transport, hotels, meals… and the children’s gifts. Brian loved to spend money on his children – they grew accustomed to nice gifts and activities.

My financial limitations after Brian died were daunting. Doing the holidays with less – one less person whom you loved, less money, less energy, less decorating, less food – can be a really tough situation.

However, I found that with little to no money, and targeted energy, you can still create “holiday feeling” for yourself, your family and friends.


1. Look outside. What resources can you bring inside? Don’t preclude non-traditional plants. I have made wreaths from mulberry and citrus cuttings. What can be washed, slapped with a coat of paint or re-purposed for a holiday decoration? Once I took a short green watering hose and coiled it with twine, creating a gardener’s wreath. Everyone loved it and it cost me nothing.

2. Carefully pick your focal points, where the eye naturally goes or where you would like to guide the eye. Three focal points to focus on for punch are:
• The Entry – sets the mood for everyone
• The Family Room – or main gathering space
• The Bedside – Everyone’s bedside is a very sentimental space. Do not overlook it. After Brian died, I gave each child a tiny Christmas tree, sized for their bedside table with mini lights and ornaments that were picked to remind them of their dad. They settled into bed and woke with those trees, feeling his love. The tree toppers were a star with a note that told them that when they looked at the twinkling stars that they might imagine him winking at them.

3. Use scale, color, light, sound, texture, and smell to your advantage.
Go with less items that are a bigger scale to carry visual impact. Select colors for either sentimental reasons or strong impact. Light can cast warmth and sentimentality – candles, twinkle lights cost almost nothing at bargain stores. Create a holiday play-list and have continuous music playing in your gathering spaces. Go for soft, warm and comforting textures. Use greens if you cannot afford a tree to bring in a spruce odor.


Focus on Sentimental Gift Giving. If the heart is full, the wallet can be less-so!
1.    Food is important.Give your kids special family recipes in a note book, adding personal anecdotes and pictures.
2.    Heirloom jewelry or a locket with an inscription inside or photo can be meaningful.
3.    Write up baby stories for each child, describing what they where like as an infant. Include fun, interesting facts. Recall their favorite books, stories and toys. Add a few photos as well.
4.    Create a DVD with of pictures of the family to their favorite songs.

Focus on Activity Gift Giving. It keeps everyone busy and also makes memories!
1.    Give objects for favorite activities. If you ride bikes together, give a box with all the bits and pieces to spruce up their bike. Give art supplies or art kits (beading kits, ceramic mug kits) shrinky-dinks or something fun. Try to do the activity together over the holiday time period.
2.    Make goodies together to eat and to give as family gifts.
3.    Select an enormous puzzle to do together.
4.    Create bird houses and make a whole activity out of making, decorating, hanging and feeding the birds.
5.    Make a movie basket – create no-sew fleece blankets for each family member and package with various family movies, popcorn, liquorish, cocoa mix or things of this nature.
6.    Find an outdoor area to have a bonfire and make s’mores as you sing holiday songs.

My last hint: Particularly if your children are older, consider celebrating on Twelfth Night on January 5th. It marks the conclusion of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Airfare is cheaper. Things are calmer. Mark-downs will already be in effect, making your dollar go farther. There are many interesting traditions to draw from for this holiday. including a King’s Cake, named for the Three Kings who visited Baby Jesus.

Kim Go 2010

Kim Go

I am an artist in the expressive, installation and performance arts. I write because of our shared cultural beliefs about loss offer far too few tools to people working with grief. When I was very young, I thought little about impermanence. Then, my personal encounters with impermanence grew to include such challenges as: my father's death in early childhood, a near-death experience in adolescence, divorce, fertility challenges, death of a soul mate and spouse and subsequent loss of access to stepchildren, mugging and assault, pet loss, job loss, suicide of two close friends, and geographic resettlement. Perhaps we have something in common... perhaps not. I have learned that the specificity of the loss does not matter as much as the condition of the heart to be open to others who are learning to be present and alive regardless of the impermanence in their story.

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